A Lake Dallas resident-formed political action group called Lake Dallas Citizens for Change (LDCFC) was unable to obtain the correct amount of signatures to recall a council member.
According to City Secretary Joni Vaughn, the petition to recall Lake Dallas Council Member Steve Forgey was certified as insufficient. Ruby Benoit, a representative of the group, sent in paperwork to Vaughn on Jan. 11 on behalf of the LDCFC, which showed 153 signatures for the petition to recall Forgey. However, Vaughn responded to the group Tuesday, saying that out of those 153 signatures, only 66 were in fact eligible for the petition.
The group needed at least 102 signatures of residents in Lake Dallas who voted in the last municipal election. Along with that, Vaughn also said that none of the signatures had the proper voter identification code or date of birth of each signature as required by the Texas Election Code section 277.002. Furthermore, Vaughn said the petition did not have the date of signing as require by the same section in the Texas Election Code.
Members of the LDCFC disagree with Vaughn, saying the petition only needed 25 percent of qualified voters and not those who voted in the last election. However, Lake Dallas’ city attorney David Berman responded to the claim, citing the city’s charter in section 6.04.
“A petition to the city council for recall, initiative or referendum containing the signatures of qualified voters equal in number to no fewer than 25 percent of the qualified voters who voted in the last municipal election, shall be presented to the city secretary no later than 30 days following the filing got the affidavit by the petitioners’ committee.”
Berman went on in his response to say that the petition not only didn’t have enough signatures but “the petition also did not meet the two other requirements imposed by the election code.”
“Technically, the entire petition is not valid,” Berman said. “The city secretary’s certificate of insufficiency is based on a purely mechanical review, on the charter and the law and has nothing to do with political influence or bias of any kind.”
The group is seeking to remove Forgey from his place on the council for voting to approve a temporary contract for Nick Ristagno, the city’s manager and chief of police. Benoit, on behalf of the groupp, claims that Ristagno’s contract with the council is illegal and that Ristagno is serving in a role that is incompatible.
Ristagno entered into an agreement with the council in 2013 to work as both the city manager and the police chief when the previous city manager retired. The council at that time agreed to the contract in an effort to save money so the city could eventually hire a full-time city manager.
In September of last year, Ristagno’s two-year contract deal ended, and council members Forgey, Andi Nolan and April Estrada voted in favor of extending Ristagno’s role as interim city manager for 10 months while searching for a new city manager during that time.
“I asked [the council] on behalf of the LDCFC to not extend the contract with Mr. Ristagno when it expired in September,” Benoit said. “They did not follow the will of the people and the law and extended his contract.”
According to the Texas Dual Office Holding Laws, if a person takes a position that is merely temporary, it is usually not considered to be a second office for dual office holding purposes.
In an opinion by former Attorney General Greg Abbott from March 2011, he addresses a similar situation involving the city manager of Balch Springs being under employment of the council. In the summary of this opinion, Abbott states that “The city manager of a home-rule city, who is appointed by and subject to termination by the city council, is not an officer within the common-law doctrine of incompatibility.”
Though Forgey is not the only member who voted to extend Ristagno’s contract, he remains the only one targeted by a recall. Members of the LDCFC said that a recall for Nolan did not gather enough support and there is no desire to recall Estrada as she is up for reelection in May.